Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book Review: Sole Sisters: Stories of Women and Runnning

"The running group has become a movable village, where women swap advice on matters small and large, from issues as mundane as helping a baby sleep through the night to crises as grave as a hospitalized child."   -- from Sole Sisters: Stories of Women and Running

This past Sunday was Diva Night at Playmakers  (my local running store) an annual event which celebrates women runners and walkers in the community. It is a fun night of socializing, sharing stories, learning about new gear, clothing, and equipment, and generally celebrating being active, vibrant women. If you haven't seen the video yet, check it out on the video page.

 In looking around the room, I could not help but be struck by the diversity of the women attending and how we all mingled together in a big happy bunch. Running is like that. It creates instant community. It doesn't matter if a person is rich or poor, black, white or brown, liberal or conservative, religiously devout or atheist, a high school dropout or a scholar with a Phd., we all share very similar experiences as runners, and those experiences give us a common ground. It is amazing when you think about it.

 The Diva Night experience reminded of a book I had read recently titled Sole Sisters: Stories of Women and Running. It is one of the few books I have in my collection that focuses exclusively on women runners and tries to capture their experiences and unique perspectives.

The book is comprised of 21 short vignettes of real women runners. It is a celebration of regular women who are also runners, some of whom happen to be professionals. It covers the life experiences that women share that bond us together, just as the experiences and struggles we share on the roads and trails bond us together as runners.

If you read the book you will be amazed at how many ways you can relate to these women. There are women here who have battled loss, cancer, alcoholism, eating disorders, injury, and their own lack of self-esteem, and found their way through these life struggles with the help of running. Many took up running to help them cope with problems in their lives or as part of attempts to make their lives better. Their stories are inspirational and entertaining.

The book introduces you to some wonderful women, such as Sister Marion Irvine, known as The Flying Nun, who took up running at age 48 and qualified for the Olympic Trials six years later and who was still running when the book was published in 2006 at the age of 75. It also profiles Grete Waitz, 9 time New York marathon winner, who just passed away last year from cancer. It also includes an interesting look at two Kenyan women runners, Catherine and Anastasia Ndereba.

One of the more interesting stories for me was that of Cheryl Treworgy, the mother of Shalane Flanagan, who is on our current women's Olympic marathon team. Cheryl was a runner in the 1960s, one of the pioneers of women's running. Her story reminds us of how far women have come in a short amount of time. Cheryl was banned from running alone on the high school track because the idea was unheard of. She had to wear boys running shoes because they did not make them for girls, and her grandmother made her clothes to run in. She went to Indiana State University, and she was the entire women's track team. The men's team would not allow her to train with them so she found a high school team that allowed her to train and compete with the boys (if she didn't get in the way) to help her prepare for her AAU meets. It is amazing to think that this was only one generation ago.

The book also celebrates the friendships that women make through running and the value of the group experience. There are stories of running partners, such as Susan Pajer and Marilyn Darrows, who met and ran together to cope with the loss of Marilyn's husband, or the Dawn Patrol, a group of women runners who meet faithfully regardless of the weather. There is also the story of the Centipede Team of the Aggies running group, which run the famous Bay to Breakers race as a centipede, hooked together with bungees into a single group of 13 runners, or the girls at Students Run Philly Style, who hope that running will help them find the path to a better life. There are so many wonderful stories.

This book is not deep reading, and it is not a masterpiece of prose. However, I found the book enjoyable and a nice addition to my running library. The chapters are short and easy to read. It is a fun book if you want a little inspiration and motivation. It would also make a good gift for a woman runner in your life, especially one who may be going through a rough patch physically or emotionally, as a major theme in all the stories is the strength of the women and their ability to persevere and triumph regardless of what life throws at them.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Homage to the Running Gods

As I mentioned in an earlier post, religion and politics are usually taboo topics for public conversation for me, but it is hard to write week after week about my running without making a confession: I am a running pagan. I worship the running gods.

I was not always a running pagan. I started out with the same Judeo-Christian background that many of us in the United States share, but somehow it did not take. At an early age I disappointed my devout grandmother by being more interested in the stories of  Greek gods and goddesses than the Bible stories she was trying to get me to absorb. When I got a little older, I was absolutely fascinated to learn that those gods and goddesses of myths were really the deities that the Greeks worshipped in their daily life. I could totally see how that would work.  Still, I did not convert to Greek paganism or any other type of paganism at that time.

My first realization of the running gods happened as spiritual revelations do to many people. I was in a time of great distress, climbing a particularly nasty hill, toward the end of an otherwise flat run.  I looked up on the hillside, and there in the bushes was ... well... a running god. He presented himself to me in the form of a metal statue. He had the body of a man and the head of a coyote, sort of like a scrap metal Anubis. Spontaneously a plea popped into my head "Please, hill god, get me to the top of this hill." Surprisingly I immediately felt light as a feather and within a minute had floated over the top of the hill. Well that hill became a part of my regular running route, and I was sure that as long as I paid homage to the god of the hill, I would make it to the top, and I did, for several years.  (I actually sent my son to photograph the hill god for this piece, but sadly, he has apparently moved on to another location. Maybe when I left there were no other runners there to help.)

After that, the running gods started subtly making their presence felt, most often on the trails. I remember one day in particular feeling a little uneasy on a run. I decided not to go further down the trail I was on and turned around. I felt like I had wings for the latter half of the run. A few days later I heard that the ranch below the trail I was running on had been attacked by a mountain lion and some livestock killed. I was pretty sure the trail gods had been watching over me.

As with any religion, understanding the gods helps one understand those unexplainable events in daily life. Why did I have that terrible race when I did so much training? Well I had obviously angered the running gods. Why did I PR at that marathon? Well obviously it was because I had made the necessary sacrifices to the gods of that particular event.  

Yes, I said "gods" because over time I found there was a whole pantheon of running gods, each with their own personality and demands, just like those Greek gods.  There are the track gods. Those are the most jealous of all the gods and demand the most in terms of sacrifice. Not only do they expect regular sacrifices, but also meaningful ones. If you aren't giving them every bit of energy and concentration, you are not worthy of their regard. They will accept nothing but a prime effort if you expect them to smile on you on race day.

The road gods also demand sacrifice, but they are more lenient in the type of sacrifices they will accept. They like constant attention and care more about the frequency of the sacrifice. If you are not paying homage to the road gods at least four times a week, you run serious risk of angering them if you aim too high on race day.

The trail gods are my personal favorites. They do demand  sacrifice, but they are a lot more lenient in what they will accept. They are the most social of the running gods and prefer followers with a more philosophical attitude. Their concern is that when you are paying homage to them that you appreciate their beauty and honor their fellow gods. They have work closely with several of the nature gods (weather, trees, rocks, hills, forests) and demand that you treat their friends well. If you take any of these gods for granted, trouble is soon to follow.

I have a friend, Kai, an ultra runner, who is a perfect illustration of the temperament of the trail gods. He trains like a beast. Seriously. Everyone who knows him knows the level of effort he puts into all facets of his training. However, by his own admission, every time he attempts a 100 miler the weather just goes to hell. He thinks it is just bad luck, but I know the problem. He trains a lot of his miles on the treadmill. The trail gods do reward him for his efforts with really outstanding finishes, but they can't resist messing with him just a little to remind him that "trails not treadmills" is the best approach. (It's their version of that whole "no other god before me thing," I think.) He may find himself in an icy stream midrace, bombarded by a thunderstorm at the start, or find himself trying not to lose a shoe in ankle-deep mud that has suddenly appeared on the course.  The trail gods are like that, generally benevolent but with a wicked sense of humor.

Like many deities, the running gods can be difficult to please. Unfortunately, there is no "Bible" for devout followers to study to avoid the wrath and punishment that comes with their displeasure. One learns the will of the running gods through trial and error. One thing I have learned for sure about the running gods is that there is no divine redemption. One cannot simply ask for forgiveness and be reinstated to a state of grace. A plea such as "Running god, I know I have been negligent in my training, but please let me PR this marathon," will fall on deaf ears. The running gods  believe in redemption through penance. If you have transgressed, you can put yourself back in their good graces, but it takes persistent work and sacrifice.

In case you think that these running gods are just a figment of my imagination, let me mention that even Running Times once published an article mentioning these gods and their role in injuries. A quick Google search will show several other runners who have mentioned the power, benevolence, or wrath of these gods.   One of my favorites is a pre-race prayer on a fellow runner's blog:

"So, Running Gods, please keep my feet from throbbing, my calves from cramping, my knees from aching, my tummy from churning, my chest from chafing, and my mind from straying from a positive outlook."

A similar prayer like this is a regular part of my pre-race routine. 

Well, since this is turning into a religious treatise rather than a blog post, I think I will wrap this up. I am sure insights from the running gods will continue to pop up occasionally in  my posts.

Just one last thing: Some of you may be wondering "what about the treadmill gods?" Well after many years of studying this question myself, I have finally concluded what all of us have suspected all along: On the treadmill, there is no god! 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

What an absolutely awesome follow-up to my early post about not fearing aging as a runner! I just had to share this here. I have another new hero and inspiration!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

2012 Goals: Bloodied, Boned, Bruised, and Burned

In my previous post on the importance of goals I promised that I would share my current goals. I am at that veteran runner stage where goals are sometimes hard to set. Last year I had thought maybe I would go after my marathon PR, which I still feel has some room for improvement, just because that is what I was used to doing. I even entered a marathon last year. However, it became clear as I was training for the road marathon that I really wasn't enjoying it like I used to. Part of the reason for the DNF I had at that race was that I just wasn't into it -- the training or the racing.

What I was enjoying was the trail running that I started doing last spring here in Michigan. My previous trail running had been in the California mountains, which are absolutely awesome, and in Florida, which is a big, hot, sandy swamp. Although I had loved trail running in California, I did not know much about Michigan and had no idea there were so many beautiful trails.

It was love at first run on the trails up here. The trails are soft, not too rocky (at least not compared to So Cal), and the greenery and wildlife are beautiful. In my mind, trails will always go hand in hand with ultras, so when I decided late last spring that road marathons were not doing it for me, ultras was the direction I turned.  I was entered to run my first trail marathon in August and the 50k at Woodstock in September. I was starting to feel motivated and passionate about running again. Then in July I ruptured my spleen on a trail run -- 4 days in the hospital and 8 weeks of no running. That set me back a bit.

As I was on the couch for 8 weeks, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I really wanted to do in my running. One of those "someday I will" things I have had in mind for almost a decade is the desire to run the Western States 100. It occurred to me, as I watched the year click down toward the big 5-0, that if I was going to ever do that, I better get after it.

You are probably thinking, "Oh, then her goal for the year is the Western States." Well not quite. You see, getting into Western States is a long process. First a person has to qualify. That involves finishing another 100 miler, or a 100k race under 14 hrs, or a 50 mile race in under 11 hours. Once one qualifies, then the runner can submit his or her name into the lottery. The number of entrants is limited to 369, but some of those spots go to previous years' winners and other specially qualified runners, so the actual number of spots is less. The lottery is a long process.  It can take years. If you are interested in the process, you can check out their site.

So, yes, entering Western States is a goal, but it is a 3 to 5 year goal for me. I am not the kind of person who likes to be unprepared. I don't just want to run Western States; I want to try for the silver buckle that comes with a finish under 24 hours. The odds are already stacking up against me because I am getting older even as I type, but I am going to give it a shot. Once that long term goal was set, it was easy to work backwards.

With that in mind, I had to ask myself "How do I get there from here?" The answer is that I need to get into shape to run a qualifying event.  I decided to make it a two to three year plan, depending on how I progress and handle the mileage. This year, 2012, is the year of the 50k. The following year will be 50 milers and 100ks, and the next year 100 milers. I know that seems like a long build-up but remember that I want to "race" these not just finish them, and it takes me longer to build mileage than it used to. I would like to have a year of solid 40 to 60 mile weeks before I attempt the 100 miler.

Then I turned my attention to 2012. What did I want to do with those 50ks. Well I knew the answer to that question immediately. When I heard we were moving to Michigan, I was on the internet trying to find out if there were any running clubs or good races up here, and I came across the Dances With Dirt site. If you have never heard of Dances with Dirt (DWD)  , you really need to go to the site and read a little bit to get the flavor of the whole experience. The Dances with Dirt series is a set of races put on by Running Fit. It is a pet project of their "head goat" Randy Step, who is an awesome guy and a really crazy race director.

The courses are all in places with colorful names: Green Swamp, Gnaw Bone, Devil's Lake, and Hell. The courses range from difficult to absolutely ridiculous, including stream crossings, bushwhacking, swamp crossings, dirt ladders, and whatever other surprises Randy can arrange for his dedicated runners. The best part is that the races are a series: Bloodied, Boned, Bruised and Burned. If a runner completes four ultras in the series within a single year, there is a buckle.

Now, I have mentioned before that I am a sucker for bling. I will run myself nearly to death for a cheap plastic medal on a tacky ribbon, so you can imagine how I felt the first time I saw that buckle. I had to have it. My goals for 2012 were set.

The races in the series go like this: Green Swamp, FL (March 24), Gnaw Bone, IN (May 12), Devil''s Lake, WI (July 14), and Hell (September 22).   If I successfully complete the fourth race, the belt buckle will be awarded at the finish line of my "home" race in Hell.

Here is the plan. My odyssey will start with the DWD Green Swamp, sort of. Actually I fell victim to the FOMO I mentioned in the previous post and have entered a "training race" a trail marathon at Land Between Lakes in Kentucky , which is on the way to Florida, and which will be my last long training run before the 50k. That run is March 10.  My goal in that endeavor will just be to get that long run in at a sensible pace that does not leave me fatigued for the 50k (IT band willing). You will see that I like to use trail marathons as some of my long training runs for the 50ks. It is fun to get those long training runs done with company and aid.

I have a secondary goal that I should also mention. I still love road running and was not ready to completely give it up. I also did not want to lose all my road speed.  The half marathon is my favorite road distance, so I am keeping a few road half marathons in my schedule (Martian and Bayshore). I don't expect to set any PRs at these races, as my PRs at the half are times that I could only hope to reach with dedicated training for that event. What I am hoping for is to establish some "over 50" PRs for myself and maybe place in my age group if possible. Because of that you will notice that there are a few half marathons tucked into my upcoming races. Those are on my "down" weekends for the ultra training, the weekends where I would have run only 12 to 14 miles anyway.

So that is how the next 9 months are shaping up for me. I hope to take you along on the journey by providing video logs and race reports. I have to admit I am a little scared and am wondering if four 50ks are biting off more than I can chew, but only time will tell. 

How about your goals? What do you have planned for the upcoming season? 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Running Goals

As I mentioned in the previous post, I turned 50 this year. Turning 50 is one of those milestones that suggest that there should be some type of memorable goal to be set and achieved. I thought long and hard about the goals for this year, and I want to share those goals with you because part of what this blog will be is a chronicle of my attempts to achieve those goals. However, before I get to that, I wanted to reflect a bit on how the nature of goals changes over one's career as a runner.   

Runners are typically goal-oriented people from the start. Most runners come into the sport with a goal in mind, such as "I want to run a 5k," or "I want to do a marathon," or "I want to lose weight and get in shape."

For a new runner goals (and achievements) are easy to come by. The first year's steady stream of  running "firsts" keeps the beginner motivated and enthusiastic. The personal records (PRs) at all distances nearly every time one goes to a race continues to motivate a runner through a second phase. Eventually, though, for those who stay with it, goals become something that one has to put some thought into.

If you are still in that golden stage I hate to tell you this, but, sadly, it doesn't last forever. Eventually those improvements based on advances in general conditioning and fitness come to an end and further gains come only as a result of concentrated effort. That is when goal setting becomes important.  

For a veteran runner, clear cut long-term goals are a key to continued success. After that first flurry of  newness and PRs is over, runners can sometimes drift. Often with no clear cut "firsts" left to conquer and PRs getting harder and harder to come by, but with those training habits deeply engrained, runners continue running and racing, entering whatever race grabs their short-term attention and with no real plan.

This often leads to unsatisfactory results, which can cause some people to become frustrated and disillusioned, and it sometimes leads to injury as runners often attempt to enter races which they have not properly trained for but which sound "fun" at the time. Other runners stretch themselves beyond the limits of their training because the training has not been done with a particular distance or pace in mind. I have made both of those mistakes at various times in the past. My second and third year of running were plagued by injuries brought about by not having a clear focus and overextending myself in various ways as I did a little bit of everything, some of which I was not prepared for.  Not until I refocused with a clear cut goal, did I escape that cycle of injuries.  

For veteran runners goals can sometimes be difficult to set. The questions are numerous: Do I want to continue to chase PRs? At what distance? Do I want to return to old courses to try to set new records, or do I want to try new courses?  Do I want to try something a little different, such as trail running, ultras, track meets, adventure races, or triathlons? Finding the right answer to these questions can breathe new life into one's running.

However, finding the right answers to these questions can be difficult because there are so many options available, and saying "yes" to one often means saying "no" to others. There is a new term that has been created in this social media age. It is called FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). This is a big problem for runners who are socially connected in a running club or social network. There are a LOT of races out there, and all of them sound fantastic.  It is easy to want to do everything.  The problem is that you can't do everything -- at least not all at the same time.
As a beginning runner I had a hard time accepting this concept because in that golden first year or so, it seems like you can do everything and do it well. It was only when I hit that previously mentioned injury cycle that I realized the truth in the advice that some of the wiser veteran runners had been had been trying to give me about needing to focus and decide what I really wanted to achieve.

Now am I saying you shouldn't do some of those things that sound fun but which aren't on your plan? Absolutely not!  Anyone who knows me knows that I am often one to jump in and do those fun things. I dabble in triathlons. I will do a race because it has great "bling." However, it does mean that one has to keep the right mindset. I don't try to "race" those events. I am there for the participation. I try to do well, but I also temper my effort level and expectations so that I am not doing anything that will interfere with my more long term goal. Sometimes, if paced properly, you can do "races" that would not otherwise have fit the schedule as training runs with a particular focus in mind related to the long term goal. I will discuss that a bit more when I talk about my goals for the year. Also, if you stay with running long enough, you will have time to do many different things and set a variety of different types of goals. It just can't happen all at once.

(As an aside here, I have recently learned the joy of being a spectator or a volunteer at some of those races. It is NOT absolutely necessary to run in the races to enjoy them. Sometimes going and taking pictures can be a heck of a lot of fun, and your friends will appreciate the photos and encouragement. If you haven't tried it yet, you should. It's a blast.)

So, now with all that said, I am ready to tell you about my goals for the year. Unfortunately, that will have to wait for next post. I have to go for a run!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Turning 50: Why I Don't Mind Aging Up

"Quit? Retire? Hell, no. Next year I am really going to train!" -- Marty Liquori

I turned 50 this year. For a lot of women, that might be a traumatic event, but that was not the case for me. I owe a lot of that to running.

Runners often have a hopefully optimistic approach to getting older. The runner's version of the "grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" mentality is the "Wow, this age group is tough. I can't wait to age up."  Maybe those coveted age group awards will be easier to attain in that next age group. No doubt that mindset had some effect on me, but the real reason I don't fear aging as a runner goes deeper than that.

When I first started running, back in 1998,  I was lucky enough to fall in with a running club called the Loma Linda Lopers. This was a large (over 700 members) and well established (founded in 1976)  club in Southern California that specialized in training runners for the L.A. Marathon each year, but it was such a wonderful group of people that most runners stayed long past that first marathon. By the time I found the club, many of the runners had literally been members for decades.

Bill beating me in the Holiday Classic 15k
Like all new runners in a club like that, I was placed in a group with others who were at approximately my pace. I had the extreme good fortune to be placed with an experienced runner who was over 60, named Bill Wall. I was too inexperienced as a runner at that time to realize what a really fine runner Bill was. Sure he usually won his age group at the races we went to, but he was so humble about it that I barely noticed. However, as time went on, I came to appreciate what an outstanding runner Bill was for his age.

Bill had come to running later in life, like me, and had excelled. During the years we ran together, he had various accomplishments that helped me see that older runners could still be competitive. He made the Running Times magazine list of Master's Runners of the Year one year and was on the bronze medal winning U.S. Marathon Team at the World Association of Veteran Athletes (WAVA) games in Brisbane, Australia in 2001. I just had a note from Bill earlier this week. At 79 he is still running the occasional 5k (and still placing in his age group).

Gordon 1957
Gordon today
The Lopers also introduced me to other veteran runners who inspired me then and who continue to inspire me now. One who has had a huge impact on me and who is one of my dearest running friends is Gordon Barnard. Gordon was an outstanding half-miler in Brighton, England in 1957 (56.2 in the Southern Championships) but had a horrible motorcycle accident that left him with a limp. That did not stop him from running (although it did stop him from ever reaching the heights that he was probably talented enough to reach), and despite having a few artificial parts here and there, it is not stopping him now. 

Last year Gordon went back to England and ran the Brighton and London Marathons just a week apart, not bad for a guy who is 74. The thing about Gordon was that he always had it in him, no matter how much he was struggling on a run, to encourage everyone who passed by him. He showed me that despite obstacles, running can be a lifelong passion and source of joy.

Another person who was significant to me at that time was a woman named Muriel Berger, one of the few older women runners I knew. At the time I met her, around 1999, Muriel was 69. Both she and her husband Lou were runners. Well technically Muriel was mostly a walker. Every Sunday on a run, no matter how intense our run, if we saw Muriel, Bill and I would stop to walk with her for a while. She was such a delight!

Muriel and Lou Berger
(picture from the Lopergram)
 I will never forget how proud she was when she came home from  her first marathon, the 2000 Maui marathon, and had gotten third in her age group (Her husband Lou had placed in his group as well). She was glowing. She had this absolutely beautiful ceramic fish that was her age group award. I remember how I laughed when she said that she walked a lot in the marathon but that she ran across the finish line so that she would look good in the pictures. I knew right then that I wanted to be just like that -- almost 70 years old and running across the finish line trying to look good for the pictures. I haven't seen Muriel in years, but a quick look at Athlinks shows me that she was still running in November 2011 at the age of 81. Amazing!

These people were major influences on my life during my "formative years" as a runner. I am sure that none of those people really knew they were inspiring me in the ways that they were, but those lessons have been so important to me as I have moved up through the age groups. It is hard to fear getting older when there are people like this leading the way and showing how rich and full life can be as long as we are doing what we love.

There are also the stories of older runners that I sometimes encounter that make me smile and keep me motivated. One of my favorites right now is a video getting passed around the running community called "Grandmothers of Endurance."

These are people who have inspired me. As runners, we will all find our personal heroes and inspirations. I am sure that you have yours. And, if we hang around the sport long enough, maybe we can end up being the inspiration for someone else. Who has inspired you as a runner? 

Monday, February 13, 2012

How Much Is Too Much?

I came across an article this weekend in Bloomberg that made my blood boil. The article by Michael Buteau was discussing the rise of the entry fee at the New York Marathon  to a whopping $255 (more for international athletes). The article wonders how much runners are willing to pay before they revolt and stop attending. Buteau presents a quote from a New York Roadrunner who says “I’m afraid it’s becoming an elitist sport that nobody can afford.”

This article mirrors the grumbling that had already been going on at the grassroots level in running discussion groups I take part in. I did a little research on marathon prices. Of the big marathons, New York tops the chart at $255, with Boston and Chicago both at $150 and Los Angeles  and Rock and Roll Las Vegas  close behind at $145 and $140. Definitely the big city marathons are becoming expensive, and that does not even include travel and lodging. However, as the article points out, demand for these marathons is up, so I am guessing that the price will not be dropping soon, as people who have these marathons on their bucket lists race (pardon the pun) to check them off.

What is even more troubling to me, though, than the cost of these mega-marathons is the rising cost of the smaller marathons around the country. Here in Michigan we have two brand new, unproven marathons starting this year. One is the Lansing Marathon  and the other is called The Qualifier,  which is located in Bay City. These brand new marathons, in their first year, and with courses that have no real scenic appeal, are charging $100 and $110, respectively.

Let's put this in perspective. Runs such as the Detroit Marathon, which is both a big city marathon and which offers a unique course, is only $80, while Bayshore,  which is the most popular marathon in the state if this can be judged by how quickly it sells out, and which has a very scenic course, is only $85.

What makes the race directors of these new races think that their races merit premium prices? They don't have a beautiful course to draw runners, although the Qualifier course claims to be fast (hence the Qualifier in the name). Whether or not it will be fast, though, is not yet proven. The race directors may point to other races that they have run successfully, but this does not guarantee that their new race will measure up. What do these runs have to draw runners for that hearty chunk of change?

The question that comes up in my mind is "How much is too much?" At what point will runners start voting with their feet and running away from these races with exorbitant entry fees? When will you walk away? How much is too much for you? 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Running Movie Review: A Race for the Soul

"These people, every one of them, is setting out on a magnificent experience, that even if they've done it before, it will change their life. I know that the trail and the event has that epicness in it and so few people in our day and age are able to do something epic." ---  Gordy Ainsleigh in Race for the Soul

Mother Nature has just dumped a fresh layer of snow over Michigan, once again interfering with my weekend long run. Although it has been a very mild winter here, it seems like the snow that we have gotten has always fallen when I most need to run long. This means I have spent more time this winter than I would really prefer grinding out long miles on the treadmill. "How do you do that?"  people often ask.

My trick is distractions. One of my favorite distractions is running videos, and my favorite running video is a fascinating and inspirational look at the  2001 WesternStates 100 Endurance Run called Race for the Soul. 

I have mentioned Western States before, but for those not familiar with ultrarunning, let me tell you a little about it. It is a 100 mile race through the Sierra Nevada mountains from Squaw Valley to Auburn, CA. During the race runners climb over 17,500 feet and descend 22,970 feet.  Runners have 30 hours to complete the run, but the goal for many is to finish in under 24 hours to receive the coveted silver buckle. Western States has been called the "Boston" of ultrarunnning, partially because it is one of the more famous of  the 100 mile races and also because it is has a certain aura and romance about it that makes it special in the ultra community.

I first became familiar with Western States while at a running camp when I was a newbie runner and had not even done a half marathon. It was a grainy copy of an ABC Wide World of Sports showing of the 1985 Western States. I had never even heard of ultrarunning at that point and watched the video in fascination. I hadn't even run a marathon yet, but I knew I wanted to run that race someday.

Race for the Soul perfectly captures the spirit of the race and the romance that enthralled me that very first time. It is a 2 DVD set produced by public television station KVIE. One DVD is the actual documentary while the second DVD is 55 minutes of "bonus material," which is footage from various spots on the course that did not make inclusion into the actual documentary. The run time for the main video is 56:46.

The writer, producer, and editor, Brian Harder, obviously had a passion for conveying the essence of the race and the people who run it. The video does an excellent job of focusing on two areas that are key to the ultra experience and Western States in particular: the course and the people who run it.

One of the reasons that there are not a lot of running videos is that races are difficult to film. This is especially true at WS where so much of the 100 mile trail is inaccessible except to the runners. Harder's crew does an outstanding job of filming the course itself. The WS 100 has absolutely stunning views; the course traverses some of the most beautiful country in the Sierra Nevadas. The video gives viewers not only panorama shots that show how far 100 miles really is, but also footage that lets you feel like you are actually out there at various points on the trail. You watch runners padding along single track trail, crossing bridges, stopping at aid stations, and even taking a break to wash off in a cool stream.

However, I think the real strength of the video is in the way it introduces viewers to the runners themselves. You get up close and personal views of some outstanding ultrarunners and big personalities of the sport, such as Scott Jurek (7 time winner), the phenomenal Ann Trason (14 time women's winner), and  Dean Karnazes. You also get to know some of the people that are a fixture of the race itself, such as Gordy Ainsleigh (the founder of the race -- a great story you hear about in the video) and Tim Twietmeyer (5 time winner).

These people are all inspirational, but for me it is also the regular people in the race who are fascinating, such as Dawn Infurna Bean, a first-timer to the race, and  John and Terry Rhodes, a couple who have done the race many times and who met and married on the course and who run the races together.

The stories behind these "regular" runners, people like me, who are testing themselves in this epic adventure are what really inspire and motivate. How can I not finish my 14 mile treadmill run when Patricia Haskins, a deaf runner, is soldiering on after a fall and with her knee all bandaged? How can I give up on this short little run when Lucinda Fisher, a runner in her late 50s, is trying for the 9th time to complete the race?

So, if you are looking for something to help pass the time on those long treadmill runs or something to inspire you to keep reaching for you own dreams, or if you have ever wondered what ultrarunning and 100 mile races were all about, I highly recommend that you watch this video. Here is a short clip to give you a feel for what you will be seeing:

To help make that process easier for you and hopefully to inspire at least one other runner, I am giving away a copy of the Race for the Soul DVD to one lucky blog follower. All you need to do to be eligible is become a "follower" of my blog during the month of February. All followers listed on the site by midnight February 29, 2012 will be eligible.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ten Tips for Preparing For Your First Trail Race (Part 2):

Well, if you were persistent enough to get through the first five tips and have come back for the second five, then you probably do have what it takes to be a trail runner. (If you missed the first five, click here to read those first) Here are the second half of the tips as promised:

 6. Expect to fall occasionally: One of the things that often deters road runners from running on the trail is fear of falling. That is a justifiable fear. Trail runners do fall. It kind of comes with the territory. This is especially true when road runners first make the switch. Road runners often don't pick up their feet high enough to get over even small roots or rocks on the trail. This becomes an even bigger factor when fatigue sets in. One of the ways I can sometimes tell I am fatigued late in a race is that I start stubbing my toe on obstacles that I should have cleared.

As you will eventually find out, the ground is a lot harder than it was when you were a kid. However, most falls on the trails are minor inconveniences that result in a skinned knee or elbow, a little blood that is harmless but that makes you look really tough at the finish. and a big ugly bruise the next day that, depending on its location, may or may not be suitable for showing off to your coworkers (the ones who already think you are insane for running in the first place).

However, in the interest of full disclosure, I do need to say that sometimes more serious falls do happen. Anyone that knows me personally knows that I took a low speed spill last summer that ended with a ruptured spleen and four days in the hospital. I also fell on a poison oak branch once that punctured by arm and gave me systemic poison oak. Not fun! I also have known people who have broken bones. Twisted ankles are common. These things are rare, but they do happen. Trail runners accept this fact, just as bicyclists accept the idea that they could crash. I have had road running friends that have also been hit by cars. The sport is not without risk. If this is a big worry for you, then trail running may not be your thing.

7.Adjust your expectations: Trail racing is not like road racing. Most road racers think constantly about pace and are anxious to get to those mile markers and click off those mile splits. When I run road races, I am like that too. I expect the course to be marked every mile, and I expect everything to be accurate. Trail racing is not at all like that.

First of all, it is the rare trail race that has regular mile markers on the course (although they will often have the mileage at aid stations). Additionally, trail courses are often off some in their total distance. The race director cannot always get the trail marathon to come out to 26.2 and have the start/finish in an appropriate area. They have to work around the trail and the forest. Trail runners know and accept that. These are not USATF certified courses.

You also need to adjust your expectations about your running pace and finishing time. If you have entered a trail marathon or half marathon hoping to improve your road PR at those distances, you are in for a not very pleasant surprise. Most people run considerably slower on the trails than on the road, partially because of the surface and partially because of the hilly nature of most trail race courses. Let me give you an example. Last summer (before I broke myself) my road PR for a half marathon was 1:41:51 (a 7:46 pace) , but my best trail half during roughly the same period was 2:07:57 (a 9:46 pace). In case you think that the trail marathon must just have been a bad performance, I actually placed higher in my age group in the trail half than in the road race (2nd vs. 3rd). Trail times are just slower.

This is where preparation and doing some long runs on the trails are really important. You need to have a good sense of what your trail pace really is. In your first few trail races, don't try to push too much faster than your training pace, especially if the course is hilly. Running faster on the trails than you are used to can throw off your coordination, and you could fall, or you could just burn yourself out and end up with a really painful slog through the second half of the race.

I made that mistake at the Yankee Springs trail race last year (just because I know better doesn't mean I always do better). I took off feeling really good for about four miles and going way too fast. At about six miles or so we hit this long climb. I was dead. I slowed to a jog, then a fast walk, then a slow walk. Probably 20 people passed me on that hill. (I think I saw a lady with a walker whizz by but that might have been a hallucination). It was humiliating and painful and totally my own fault for not going out at a sensible pace that I knew I could maintain. I did end up finishing because there was no other way out, but it was a really long and painful last several miles. Lessons like that one stick with you. I still get tired just thinking about it.

8. Learn trail racing etiquette: Trail running has its own etiquette. It is not complicated like the rules of golf, but there are some things you should know about trail running and racing. Trail Runner magazine has an excellent article on this which includes the basics of trail running etiquette that you should take a look at before going out. The biggies include staying on the trail, not littering, and being respectful of others using the trail. I will add a few additional ideas for trail racing specifically.

Trail races usually start in a wide area, but often narrow quickly to a single track trail. This is to allow runners to sort themselves out a bit before getting in an area that is difficult to pass. If you are a new or slower trail runner, please don't sprint out with the leaders at a pace you can't maintain for more than a mile. This will mean that faster runners will have to pass, which is more difficult on narrow trails than on the road.

If you find that you have gone out too fast (or that you are slowing down later in a race) and that runners are wanting to pass, move to the side of the trail and make it as easy for the passer as possible. If someone approaches from behind, don't ignore them. Ask them if they want to pass. Usually a runner who wants to pass will signal by saying "on your left" or "trail." Don't make the person have to run way off the trail to get around you. Move as far to the right as possible and step aside. (Those are the same rules you should follow, in reverse, if you want to pass.)

My special pet peeve in trail races is men (sorry guys) who don't move over but just speed up when a woman behind them says "on your left." Making a runner repeat a request to pass two or three times will not make you popular with your new trail running friends. If you are the passer, it is also always nice to thank the person being passed for letting you through.

Although the Trail Runner article above did address littering, it needs mentioned again here. In trail races, you don't just drop things and hope someone will pick up after you. You know that little top off your gel pack that you normally spit out without thinking. That needs to be packed out or disposed of at an aid station, as does that empty gel package. Many runners carry a baggy just to dispose of those empties. Others take their gels right before or at the aid stations so that the trash can be discarded immediately. Some trail races, such as Keyes Peak, are even switching to a "no cups" policy. At this race all runners carry a bottle, and the aid stations refill them. This may be a wave of the future, as most trail races strive to be more and more environmentally conscious.

A related question you may have but be afraid to ask is "What if I have to go?" Eventually if you run trails much, you will have to go while out on the trail. There are rules of etiquette for this as well. Get a ways off the trail, out of sight if possible. Urination is not a big deal, but more than that requires special consideration. Dig a small hole about 3 to 6 inches deep. Sticks and rocks are good for helping with this. Be sure to cover your waste thoroughly. There are two schools of thought on toilet paper. One school says "pack it out" while the other says it is okay to bury it. If you plan to bury, a quick biodegrading kind, like they sell for camping, is a good idea. If you are packing out, I recommend a separate baggie from the one used for the gel trash. Oh, and don't forget one last thing: watch the vegetation. There is nothing worse than finding out later that the secluded spot you found was blanketed with poison ivy or oak!

9. Make friends with a veteran: As I mentioned in the previous post, most trail runners are passionate about trail running and love to share this passion with others. If you are interested in running on the trails or getting into longer trail races like ultras, try to find some trail veterans to run with.

I was very fortunate when I became interested in trails to have a mentor (thanks, Jeff) who was willing to share all of his knowledge with me. He had run many ultras, including the Western States 100 (and had the buckle to prove it), and was well ensconced in the ultra running community in Southern California. Not only did he show me all the cool trails, but he also helped me learn about things like how to hydrate and fuel properly for long races. He taught me about electrolyte supplements and how to recognize the difference between electrolyte problems and nutrition problems on the run. He also paced me through my first 50 miler, egging me on the dozen or so times when I wanted to quit, and then didn't even get mad when I ran off from him in the last five miles because I wanted to make a qualifying time for Western States. He also introduced me to some of his ultrarunning friends who were legends in the ultra community at the time, such as Jim O'Brien, course record holder at the Angeles Crest 100 and Dixie Madsen, multiple record holder for women over 60. These people were inspirational to me, and there kindness and willingness to help an eager newbie are typical of the attitude of trail runners.

One of the best ways to do this is to find a trail running group in your area. Most areas that have trails have trail running groups, but they are sometimes hard to find. Ask at your local running store. There is generally someone there who will be able to connect you with a trail group in your area. Searching the Internet, Facebook, or Yahoo Groups with the words "trail running" and your town or your favorite trail name might also get you connected.

10. Enjoy the view! Remember, a major reason to be out there running the trails is to enjoy the view. Why take the risk of running trails? Why do a "race" where you will be running slower than you have before. Here is a video that I think captures it perfectly. It is 4 minutes long, but worth every second:

UltraRunning from Matt Hart on Vimeo.

If that doesn't want to make you head out for a trail run, I don't know what would.

These are some of the tips I have picked up about trail running and racing. Do any of you experienced trail runners have anything to add? Is there anything I left out that you are dying to know? Leave a comment. I would love to hear from you!

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cute Trail Running Versus Road Running Video

About an hour after my previous post I came across this that captures trail running versus road runner so well. I just had to share it here:

Ten Tips for Preparing for Your First Trail Race (Part 1)

I love trail running. For me it is the ultimate running experience. Runners tend to be proselytizers in general, but trail runners tend to be an even more zealous lot. Almost all trail runners I know are absolutely passionate about it and love to spread the joy.

Trail running is definitely on the rise, with many new runners "crossing over to the dark side," as we sometimes call it, and giving trail running a try.  You may have considered it yourself and might be considering entering your first trail race. Let me give you some tips that can help make the transition to trail racing a little easier for you. (I am splitting the tips into two posts because I want to be able to explain them a little more fully.)

1. Start small:  Many runners who have completed their very first marathon or half marathon want to move on to a new challenge and decide that a trail marathon, half, or ultra will be next. Trail running is a great new challenge, but just jumping into a long distance trail race when you have little or no experience with trail running can be a mistake that will keep you from enjoying the experience fully. The same distance race on a trail is different than that distance in a road race and is generally considerably more demanding. A long distance trail race is a good long term goal; just be sure that before you jump into that longer race you do the smaller steps that will allow you to build up to that distance comfortably.

It is important to realize that while road running and trail running are both running, they are very different kinds of running. Before tackling a long distance trail race, it is a good idea to run a few trail races of shorter distances, 5k to 10 mile, to become familiar with trail running/racing in a more manageable format before going on to a longer race. Unlike a road race, if something goes wrong in a long trail race, you can't always just stop and get a ride back to the finish. If you have problems at mile 16 in a trail marathon, this might mean a 10 mile hike to the finish or a three to four hour wait at an aid station for help getting out to civilization. Become familiar with trail running generally before tackling the more challenging (and longer distance) types of trail running/racing.

2. Learn about the course: Once you have chosen a trail race (or even as part of the selection process), it is important to learn all that you can about the course. Is it hilly (most trail races are)? What types of hills? Is it primarily short steep climbs or longer gentle grades? How much downhill is on the course? Do you have to cross streams? Does it have poison oak or ivy  (a big consideration for some people, me included)? Is it likely to be muddy, rocky, or sandy? Is it single track, which tends to have more technical footing with rocks and roots, or is it primarily dirt roads?  Are there likely to be any other hazards you should be aware of (rattlesnakes or wild boars, for instance)?

Race director humor from the Dances With Dirt Green Swamp course description
Read the course description on the web site, especially if the race director gives a detailed one. The details are there for a reason -- you need to know what you are getting into so that you can prepare accordingly. You can also search the web for "race reports" for your particular race. Often bloggers will give you very good firsthand information regarding a course that can be invaluable. Even think about searching youtube. It is becoming more and more common to have video of sections of races that will let you see what the course is like.

3. Train appropriately: The good news here is that the training is not that different. With a few minor adjustments to your favorite marathon or half marathon program, you can tackle a trail race of the same distance with ease.  You do NOT need to run all your training miles on the trail, and unless a trail runner happens to be fortunate enough to have a good trail system right outside his or her door, most don't.  If you can get one or two trail runs in a week, you will do well. This is necessary so that your legs (and your mind) can adjust to running on trails. Trail running because of the unstable footing, works a lot of additional muscles in the lower leg than road running. Trail running also requires lifting your legs higher than you might be accustomed to especially if you have developed a classic "marathon shuffle."  It also requires more concentration, especially at first. 

You do not need to do all of your long runs on the trail, but you should do some. Your legs do need to feel what that same distance will be like on a trail, especially since the same distance on a trail will take considerably longer for most people (see Tip #7 in Part 2).  I try to do a long trail run every other or every third weekend.

If your chosen race involves hills, it is important that you train for them. Most people will immediately think that means uphill training, but that means downhill training as well, especially if your race has considerable downhill portions. Hills are a little different in long trail races than they are on the roads. Many trail runners walk the uphills by design (something you don't see as often in a road race), so those uphill repeats while they do build your fitness, are often not as important to your race success as how you handle the downhills. Downhills in trail races, which can really trash your quads if you are not prepared. In many 100 mile races, it is the quad failure from the downhills that ultimately causes people to drop from the races, not being tired from the uphill climbs.

If you are entering a longer trail race, like a marathon or ultra, it is also beneficial to do some walking/hiking training. As I learned last year when recovering from an injury, fast walking on a trail uses a whole different set of muscles than running. I was so sore after my first time trail walking that I could not believe it! Working in a little walking will really help you be prepared for the longer races.

4. Learn to be self-sufficient: One of the big differences between trail running and road running is that you need to learn to be much more self-sufficient. In trail races, because of logistics, aid stations are at unpredictable intervals, most often 2-3 miles apart instead of the every mile or so that people get used to in road races. Combine that with the slower paces that most people run on the trails and that could mean that you might be 30 to 40 minutes or more between aid stations Worse, sometimes you might get off course temporarily or have physical problems of one type or another and have a long delay before the next aid station (or even miss an aid station completely). Now that doesn't often happen, but on a trail run it could, and you need to be prepared so that a minor annoyance does not become a disaster.

This means that you will need to become familiar with running with some type of hydration and nutrition. This is trickier than it sounds, especially the hydration. Finding satisfactory and comfortable ways to transport fluids during a trail run is a very individual process involving trial and error (witness my bin of failed hydration carrying devices), and it is the subject of much discussion on long trail runs. You have many choices, all with their advantages and drawbacks (another post topic!), including hand-helds, waist belts, and hydration vests. Finding what is comfortable and works for you is important. A small bouncing or rubbing on a pack can be a huge blister or chafed area after a few hours on the trail.

Besides carrying hydration and nutrition, you may also want to carry other items, such as electrolyte capsules, toilet paper (and a baggie to carry it in and out in), and possibly even vaseline.

5. Be physically and mentally prepared for a longer distance or longer time on your feet than is required by your selected race: This tip is related to two of the tips above: proper training and being self-sufficient. If you run trails long enough, eventually you will make a mistake or have a misfortune and end up going longer (either time or distance) than you intended. Again, as with most things in trail running, that can be a minor annoyance or an agonizing experience, depending on how prepared you are for the unexpected. 

Recently I entered my first trail marathon in a long while. I was a little undertrained, but I thought I would be okay based on my experience. Unfortunately I got off course. I don't know how or where, but I ended up with 28.2 instead of 26.2. I realized it just after halfway in the race, but there was nothing I could do about it. Although mentally I could deal with it because of my experience with longer races, my body was not trained for it, and I ended up walking a lot in the last few miles because my calves would cramp up at anything faster than a slow jog. I also fell once because my calf just buckled on a downhill step. My legs were past the end of what they could do. 

I have also been out on what I expected to be a two hour trail run that has turned into a four hour hike because of having to hobble home on a twisted ankle. In the second instance, thankfully I had the hydration and nutrition with me to make the hobble back a little more comfortable. You can, of course, "survive" if you end up running a few extra miles in most cases, but if you want to be comfortable and enjoy the trail experience, make sure you are prepared, both physically and mentally in case you end up having one of those especially long days.

This covers the first five tips. Hopefully you have found this information helpful. Don't forget to read Part 2.

Monday, February 6, 2012

"Race for the Cure" versus Racing for a Cause

All the buzz last week in the media and in social media discussions got me thinking about my perspective as a runner on this Race for the Cure controversy. I don't usually like to discuss politics (despite the fact that I am married to a sociologist husband who can't seem to avoid it), but in this case I will make an exception.

First let me say that I support and applaud all that Race for the Cure has done in terms of breast cancer and breast cancer research. It funds many, many worthy programs. I have six aunts, five of whom have had breast cancer, so I definitely believe in and appreciate the cause. I also appreciate what Komen has done for the running community. Many new runners have been brought into the community by being attracted to running in order to participate in one of the 5k races.

However, I am troubled when I think that politics may be entering into the distribution of the money, and I was even more troubled to learn about what I believe is the harassment of small local charities who have used the phrase "for a cure" or "for the cure" in their fund raising efforts.  I mean does a group having a local dogsled race called "Mush for the Cure" to raise funds for a local breast cancer charity really need to be sued because Komen needs to "protect its more than 200 registered trademarks," as their lawyer stated to the Huffington Post ? Isn't using the Komen name in conjunction with the words "for a cure" enough for people to keep the issue straight.

The basic idea of using races to raise money for charities is definitely a good one. One of the more meaningful races I have ever run was also a cancer fundraiser in So Cal. called Women Running Wild. The race director's sister had cancer, and the race grew from there to support an organization in her honor. One year, at check-in they gave us all balloons upon which we wrote the names of people we knew whose lives had been lost to cancer or who were battling it. Before the race we released those balloons, and it was very moving.

I saw another example of the power of this when I first moved to Michigan and the running community rallied to raise money for a wheelchair accessible minivan for Delores Hensley, a long time supporter of the running community in the area. Although I was new and did not know Delores, the response of the running community was amazing and moving. It made an impression on me immediately about the character of the running community in my new home.

These are two examples that stand out in my memory, but even showing up at packet pick-up for a race to benefit a high school cross country team in these days of shrinking budgets and seeing the coach manning the table and the team members stuffing goodie bags is heartwarming. I also love the updates on my Facebook page from Irondog. I feel good about supporting these local causes.

I guess the bottom line is, I am wholeheartedly behind the idea of using races as events to generate funds for worthy causes, but when the charitable organization itself becomes so big that marketing, managing, and litigating on behalf of the organization begins to become a huge focus, for me it is time to step out. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Running and Blogging: What's Keith Richards Got To Do With It?

This running blog was inspired by Keith Richards. No, not some guy named Keith Richards at some local running club or 5k race, like you might expect. THE Keith Richards, guitar player for and founding member of the Rolling Stones, who besides being one of the world's greatest guitarists and songwriters, is also now an award winning author. I just read his memoir Life, which as you can probably guess from the apt title, chronicles his life, as well as the life of the Stones. What does that have to do with running you might wonder? Well, directly nothing, but indirectly quite a bit actually.

As I made my way through the book, across the decades of Richard's life and through the type of escapades you would expect from one of the early "bad boys" of rock and roll, one thing was absolutely stunningly clear: Richard's life is possessed by his love for and obsession with music. At one point he says that no matter what he is doing, the music is always there working away in the back of his mind, creating that next riff  or fussing over how to get a new sound. Where music is concerned, he exudes passion and intensity. Whatever is happening around him passes through the music lens -- everything in his life is part of his music, and music is part of everything in his life. It is not just what he does; it is who he is.

Before I picked up the book  I had always thought him to be a rather interesting "character," but I could not imagine that there would be a single thing in his life to which  I could personally relate. Although I know nothing about guitars and even less about writing music, I understood and empathized with what he was saying about his relationship to music perfectly because that is the relationship I have with running.  

Unfortunately I am not world-class or even lucky enough to make my living with my obsession. I am just a slightly above average master's runner. However that does not change even a little the way that the passion for running invades my mind and my life.

For me, running is ever-present.  Besides the obvious and physical daily questions, ("When will I run today?" "How far will I go?" "Is that a pain in my knee?" "Should I run trail or road?"), there are also the races in the back of my head, those I've run and those I hope to run. The training questions that need to be pondered. The gear that needs to be perused. There are the times, the splits, the comparisons to other performances that need to be analyzed. There are the runners, past and present, whose stories need to be read and reflected on. There are my steadily growing groups of running friends and my thoughts about how they are doing and what they have done. There are questions about when to eat and what to eat and why. Running has become my passion, and it is also a lens through which I process my world.  

Many runners may not recognize (or desire) this level of passion. I am sure many musicians do not share Keith Richard's level of obsession either. Many non-runners, and probably some runners as well, may not approve of being so "obsessed" (although I never really understood why people need to pass judgment on that). That is as it should be.

People come to various activities with different levels of interest and engagement. I do a lot of activities that I enjoy immensely but which I am not passionate about. However, I think that every person should search until they do find the activity that inspires a level of passion that transcends mere enjoyment. I think that those are the things that help make people thrive.

I did not find that running was my passion until I was in my late 30s. I remember on  a run one day when I was 40 when I just was flooded with joy at the idea of having found something so wonderful at a time in my life when I thought I pretty much knew who I was and what I was about.

Have you found your passion yet? Maybe it will be running? Maybe it will be raising orchids? It doesn't matter. What does matter is that you find it  and embrace it. It will give a level of meaning and pleasure to your life that will enrich everything else that you do. 

So why start a blog? Well, because one of the things about a passion is that it clamors to be shared. Richards was fortunate that there were literally millions of people with whom he could share his passion. I don't expect to share my passion with millions, but if I can share it with a few and perhaps ignite that passion in someone else, then I will be immensely satisfied.